var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-41362908-1']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://' : 'http://') + ''; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();
Home / Latest News / Who’s that boy? Pete Townshend’s brother Simon steps out of his shadow

Who’s that boy? Pete Townshend’s brother Simon steps out of his shadow

When Simon Townshend was eight, his older brother Pete, gave him his first electric guitar.

But this was no ordinary instrument. Part Gibson SG with a Fender Stratocaster neck attached, this hybrid was assembled from the remnants of two of the rock star’s infamous onstage demolitions.

A year later, his younger sibling was contributing backing vocals on the Tommy soundtrack. It was the beginning of a life-long involvement with one of Britain’s most iconic rock bands – The Who.

But in parallel to this, Simon Townshend – 15 years Pete Townshend’s junior – was determined to walk his own musical path. Next week, not only can you catch him performing on stage with The Who at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena as part of their UK Quadrophenia tour, he’ll also be playing with his own band the following night at the city centre venue The Globe.

When we speak, he’s just come back from Canada where he’s been touring with female rock duo Heart and late last year he was in the US with The Who on the American leg of the Quadrophenia tour.

And, of course, you may have caught him on stage with The Who last summer sporting those famous Union Jack bowling shoes at The Olympic Games closing ceremony.

In fact, his touring schedule during the last few years has been nothing short of relentless. Even so, he still saw opportunities in The Who’s Quadrophenia And More tour to set up eight gigs in eight major UK cities so he can get out and play his own material, too.

“We just looked at the schedule and there seemed so much room,” he says. “Touring is great fun but if there is one thing about touring that is hard work, it’s the waiting around. You are on stage for an hour and a half and the rest of that 48 hours is just sitting around waiting for that moment when you can get on stage and enjoy yourself. I guess for The Who, they need that time to break down the stage and get to the next place and Roger (Daltrey) is 67-years-old so he’s got to be careful with his voice. He does an amazing job but he makes sure that he doesn’t push the amount of shows he does to keep his standards high.”

Simon Townshend has been guitarist and vocalist in The Who since 1996 and is well used to the dynamics of what can only be described as one of Britain’s most exciting live rock bands.

“When I’m up on stage with The Who, I’m just constantly listening really – listening to what Roger is singing, listening to what Pete is playing. Sometimes I ghost Roger on the certain notes or I take over on the higher register. He knows that he can rely on me.”

But his music career has also seen him release six solo albums along with one with the band Casbah Club (featuring Bruce Foxton (ex bass player with The Jam) and drummer Mark Brzezicki (Big Country), all on his own Stir Music label. His current band features drummer Chris Grainger (From The Jam), Tony Lowe on guitar and Phil Spalding on bass.

Making music was unavoidable for the youngest Townshend. His mother was a singer and his father was a accomplished jazz musician. He witnessed first hand the musical revolution that took place in the early ’60s when a new wave of pop and rock music virtually washed away all that had come before it – including the ‘trad jazz’ of his father’s day.

Ironically, it was Cliff Townshend’s eldest son, Pete, who was leading the charge.

“My father’s prime period was the late ’40s and ’50s and when rock came along, it sort of destroyed what he was making his living from. All the bands of the ’60s, including The Who, were doing everything in a much more unconventional way and my dad was sitting back thinking. ‘hang-on he’s making a hundred times more money than I ever made and he doesn’t even know what chord he’s playing’.”

Hanging round back stage at Who gigs in the ’60s was a great musical grounding for him. He would often accompany his mum, who was a roadie for the band, in the early days and see them perform in small clubs in London.

“I watched The Who go through different phases but my memory of it was that they were always massively successful in my eyes and I was very proud of everything they did – but I did actually like the music as well.”

Given his pedigree, it would be all too easy to dismiss the youngest Townshend as a soft focus reproduction of Pete. But standing in the guitar-wielding windmill shaped shadow of his eldest brother can’t have been easy when you have your own songs to perform. That said, there are undeniable similarities vocally between the brothers. Hear him play Pinball Wizard and you have to steal yourself for a moment.

But compared to rock theatrics of The Who, Simon Townshend’s music is a much more intimate affair. There is no sense of remoteness. His songs are undisguised and lyrically are very personal – this is Townshend the troubadour. His last album, Looking Out, Looking In, which was released last year, is a remarkable collection of songs ranging from acoustic ballads with arching strings and harmonies to solid rock songs and is a piece of work he is rightly proud of.

“It took a long time to get it out and I worked very hard on the production, having mixed it four or fives times. But I wanted it to sound as good as it could.”

During this current tour, Townshend will be airing some of the material soon to be released on his new album, Denial, which is due out this autumn along with his current single Bare Essence – an enduring and captivating love song.

You’d think playing at The Globe in Cardiff the night after playing a packed-out Motorpoint Arena might seem a bit of a comedown. But he doesn’t see it that way.

“That’s the thing about doing small gigs, you are closer to the people and there is an intensity there that you just don’t get in an arena and I like the fact I’m lucky enough to be doing both at the moment. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

These two gigs not only set themselves apart in their size, but also in their context. The Who performing songs from their anthemic album Quadrophenia will be all about looking back – it’s a retrospective in every sense. But the following night will take that legacy forward – it’s all about the Townshend of tomorrow.

Simon Townshend performs with The Who at Cardiff Motorpoint Arena on June 25 and then a solo gig at The Globe Cardiff on June 26

Check Also

Just why does parking make so many people so damn angry?

Between  Brexit chaos and a black hole the size of three million planet Earths you’d …